I must watch 6 or 7 poker shows a week on TV (love that Tivo!) and while watching, I always try to play everyone’s hand before they actually play it themselves. I find more and more that the “expert commentator” will often verify my move when the player involved doesn’t do what I would have done. Of course, it’s easy for both of us, because we always know what cards everyone has, but I try to not let that affect my decision. In any event, I think I’m learning more about the game by doing this, so I thought you might like to try something similar.
What I’m going to do here is set up various situations where you know only my cards, play out the hand and then have you try to determine what cards my opponents are holding. My opponents’ cards will be shown in the Answers section, plus I’ll explain why I believe the betting action points to them holding those cards. Of course I realize that any hand can be played in various ways and there’s certainly nothing to stop someone from playing 2-7o as though it were a pair of Aces, but I’ll try to give you enough information to arrive at a reasonable conclusion. If you disagree with my answers, that’s great, because it shows you’re at least exploring all of the possibilities that can exist. There are very few absolutes in the game of poker because it, unlike chess or backgammon, is only a partial-information game; we really never know exactly what our opponents are holding until they turn up their cards.
Most of these situations are hands I actually played – primarily in tournaments – although I might be a bit off on actual bet sizes, etc. I will try to set the scene as accurately as possible, so give it a shot and see how you do. I plan to make this a regular feature of our Poker School, which is why I titled this “Part 1”, so if you have some thoughts on the type of analysis you’d like to see in the future, please email me.
Ready? Here we go:
Hand # 1. It’s early in an online NLHE multi-table tournament where everyone began with T1500 (the “T” means tournament) chips. The blinds are T25 and T50, I’m UTG and first to act. I have an average stack of T1625 , am dealt A-Ko and raise to T150. Two players fold, a player in Middle Position, also with an average stack re-raises to T500, the rest fold to the Big Blind, who goes all-in, making it T1100 to me .
Question: What cards does the BB likely have?
Hand # 2. It’s level 3 at a 10-player Sit & Go that has a buy-in of $109. The blinds are T50, T100 and I’m in middle position with T2300 in chips; we began with T2000, each. Everyone folds to me and I raise to T300 with Kc-Qc. The player on the button calls and the BB calls. The flop comes Ac, Ah, 3s. The pot is now T950 and I lead out with a T500 bet. The button folds and the BB calls. The turn card is 3h and I check. The BB also checks. The river card is Qd. I bet T500 into a T1950 pot. The BB raises to T1000.
Question: What cards does the BB likely have?
Hand # 3. In a $1-$2 NLHE cash game that allows a maximum buy-in of $200, I’m in the SB with 7d-7h and about $215. The player UTG raises to $6; a player in MP calls, I call and the BB calls, everyone else folds. The flop comes 2s, 4h, 6d. I check, the BB checks and UTG bets $10, not quite half the pot. The player in MP calls, I call , the BB raises to $20, which I and UTG call, but the player in MP folds. There are now three players in the hand and the pot is $94. The turn card is 3s. I check, BB checks and UTG bets $25. I fold and and BB calls.
Question: What cards does the UTG player likely have?
Hand # 4. I’m in the “cutoff” (the seat that acts just before the Button) of a single-table satellite tournament that cost $29 to enter. One player of the 10 wins an entry into a MTT tourney that leads to a seat in the WSOP “main event”, so obviously it’s 1st place or nothing. Five players remain and the blinds are currently T200-T400. We began with T2000 each and I have T5400, which is a bit above average – the Button has T5000, the SB has T1200 and BB has T4600 (after posting their blinds), UTG has T1000 and the remaining player (MP, I guess) has T2800. I’m dealt 5s-5h. The play begins with UTG and MP folding. I make it 1200 to go; the Button reraises to T3000 and both blinds fold. The bet is 1800 to me with 4800 in the pot, which means 2.6 to 1 pot odds. To make the call, I have to believe my probability of winning the hand is about 30% or more. (27.77% to be exact.) If the Button has a higher pair, I’m only at about a 20% probability to win, but if he has just two overcards, like A-J, etc., then I’m a slight favorite. I hate it when this happens! But I call anyway because, A) I’m not all-in and B) my probability of winning is close to 28% when you consider all of the hands he might be raising with, plus C) I might be able to move him off the hand after the flop, because I can bust him. The downside is that I’ll be first to act on each hand, but that can sometimes work in your favor, although I’m worried about the fact that the Button is very close to being “pot-committed”, because he now has only 40% of his chips remaining. The flop comes 7s, 8s, Qs. I check and the Button goes all-in for T2000.
Question: What cards does the Button have?
Hand # 1. The pot has about T2000 in it, which is nearly 2 to 1 pot odds on my T1100 call, but I’m folding here because I think the BB has me beat and if he doesn’t, so what? It’s just too early to get into a coin flip, unless I know I’m one of the weakest players in the tournament, in which case I probably have to gamble in order to win. But in light of the re-raise that I would have at least called, which was followed by a player with another average stack who raised again by going all-in, I’m all-out. When the cards were shown, the BB had K-K and the MP raiser who called, lost with A-Ko.
Hand # 2. The BB called my bet on the flop, which implies he had some kind of a hand, but remember, it cost him only T200 to get into a pot that was T750 (my T300 bet, the button’s T300, the T50 SB and T100BB), so he was getting over 3 to 1 pot odds, which he might call with almost anything; certainly A-x. Because I raised preflop, it’s easy to put me on a hand of Ace-something, which is probably why the button folded, so what would compell the BB to call? Obviously, if he has an Ace, he’s trying to trap me or, more likely, is worried that his kicker is smaller than mine, because he thinks I do have an Ace – something like A-K or A-Q. When he checked after me on the turn, I felt he thought that I either had him beaten badly with Trips or had nothing. I gave a small consideration to the fact that he may have called me with A-3 and now was “boated”, but if that were the case, I was just going to have to pay it off. When the Q hit the river, I finally had a hand! Was it any good? Well, I had to find out, so that’s why I bet T500; not counting the fact I’d be getting about 5 to 1 pot odds on it, should he call. But then he raised and I went into “the tank”. Surprisingly, I figured it out much quicker than it takes to read this. My thought was that he raised for one of two reasons: He had me beaten badly and was trying to extract a few more $$$ or he realized only a bluff could win at this point. But it was a pretty weak bluff – what’s sometimes called a “Post Oak” bluff – which is actually a sign of a strong hand and it almost caused me to fold.
Do you see how you can talk yourself out of a hand by thinking too much? In fact, if this had been a $20+$2 SnG, I’d have folded because I’m sure my opponent would have turned up an Ace on the showdown. As it was, I didn’t like calling, but did. My opponent evidently was bluffing, because I won the hand. Unfortunately, he mucked his cards, so I cannot comment further with any certainty. But if you’ll settle for a guess, I think he had something like 7-7 or maybe Kh-3h and was trying to buy the pot.
Hand # 3. Before we get to UTG’s hand, let me tell you that I folded for several reasons. Yes, I had an inside Straight draw, but the pot was laying me less than 5 to 1 for a 7 to 1 shot (four 5s and two 7s available in the remaining 46 cards), but I also felt that BB had raised in order to either define his hand or simply because he felt UTG had A-K and missed the flop completely. (That happens a lot and I love it. Someday I’ll tell you how to make a bunch of $$$ off players who do that.) Anyway, I was out because I felt UTG had a big pocket pair, and BB might have a set. At the showdown, BB had Ad-2d and UTG had (drumroll, please): Qs-Qh. UTG played his pair cautiously but not timidly, in my humble opinion. He knew he might be up against a set, but until he saw real evidence of that, he kept firing at the pot, although – and this was the giveaway to me – it was just a small fraction, rather than the 50 to100% of-the-pot bets I expect to see from a player with the nuts. Of course, he didn’t have the nuts, but his persistance told me he thought he had the best hand. Had a King or Ace come on the turn or river, I’m sure he would have gone into a check and call mode, which might have allowed BB to steal the pot (or win it outright with his Ace.) I was surprised to see BB hang in there with A-2, but I guess the pot odds of 5 to 1 were appealing since he had some outs (which gave him an 11% probability of winning – 8 to 1 odds). “Ace huggers” always think the next card will be a bullet and I love them for it.
Hand # 4. Of course, you don’t have enough information to name the Button’s cards with any precision, but you should be able to make some sort of reasonable guess – in fact you must, if you’re going to call. Obviously, it’s easy to fold here but winning this hand will make me the chip leader so I’m not above doing some “gambling” when only one player wins it all. The pot is now T8600 and it’s T2000 to me so I’m getting 4.3 to 1 pot odds, which is great, but this is one of those “absolute” hands – I’ll be basically crippled if I call and lose – so great pot odds are a small comfort. But what other information do I have at my disposal for making this decision? Well, a re-raise by the Button against a player that can bust him (me) says “strong hand,” implying A-K, A-Q and maybe even A-J or K-Qs because I raised from Late Position. It also implies a pocket pair, perhaps as low as 2-2. The Button was not a particularly aggressive player, so I was sure he had some sort of “premium” hand, but I really felt the all-in bet on the flop was his “continuation” bet, rather than a “I’ve got the nuts” bet – after all, the odds of flopping a Flush are 118 to 1 against, so I couldn’t let that worry me. But, he could have easily bet with A-Q and hit top pair, good kicker on the flop, or his pocket pair could be higher than all the cards flopped, like A-A or K-K or (more likely) was higher than everything but the Queen, such as 10s or Jacks. In case you don’t know, the probability that 5-5 is beaten by a higher pair with only one player in the hand is less than 5%. Of course, I’m assuming that any other player who had a pair would still be in, but even with five players, the probability that someone has 5-5 beat with a higher pocket pair is “only” 16.5% and the pot was offering me nearly enough to make such a call – against only one player, it was pretty easy – kinda. What to do, what to do? I called and the cards were flipped up; my opponent had As-Kc, the prototypical re-raising hand and he also had the nut flush draw. The river card was 10c and the Button learned a lesson about the fact that “Big Slick” is a drawing hand.
Had this been a tournament that paid more than just 1st place, I likely would have folded because I honestly felt I was the best player at the table, so gambling wasn’t necessary. As it turned out, I finished third, darn it, but these events are running constantly, so I’ll be back.